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Black Cats Analects: The Real Victor Anichebe

It’s always good to bring in a new player on a free deal.  It’s even better when that bosman signing contributes positively to the team.  But when that player suddenly looks like the outlet your team has been crying out for to win matches, that is Victor Anichebe.

AFC Bournemouth v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

At least, that’s how it looked in the run-up to bonfire night, last week, when Sunderland AFC finally got that elusive seasonal first-win against AFC Bournemouth.

Sure, more than enough of our starting eleven and substitutes played their part to earn those three points at the Vitality Stadium, but Victor Anichebe took all of our forward play to a rarely-seen standard entirely.

He held the ball up in a manner not seen since the earlier days of Kenwyne Jones; and, not content with bull-dozing Eddie Howe’s defensive shape into disarray, he was also choke-slamming the Cherries’ midfielders just to win the ball back from the centre circle. Even the last kick of the game belonged to the Nigerian, tanking around in possession with no mortal man seemingly able to get near him.

It didn’t stop there, though. His humble-clad post-match interviews were verbatim to everything a Sunderland supporter wants to hear. And while nobody actually wants our players breaking their ribs in every match, it still earned Anichebe a barrel of respect. To finally conclude his kick-ass day with a self-depreciating yet celebratory reference to an earlier botched tweet attempt created an immediate flip-reversal on everybody’s opinions on him. What a guy!

But if there is any one thing that supporters should be thanking Victor Anichebe for above all else, it is that the player will inevitably now force the tactical hand of his manager, David Moyes (or, at least for one week). Because whether it was 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 or whatever, the combination of Victor Anichebe alongside Jermaine Defoe marks the first tactical decision that has worked this season.

Insert your Quinn/Phillips references here.

Okay, it’s unlikely that Anichebe and Defoe are going to break any goal-scoring records this season. We’d be lucky to see their combined tally scale twenty. Yet, from just one match, we can see the nascent of a competent (if not prolific) attacking partnership in formation, and a lot of that is to the expectations brought by Anichebe’s performance last week.

As promising as that sounds, however, we need to stay grounded on any hope of this happening. Right now, yes, Victor Anichebe had an excellent performance in November 2016. But you’d have to go back over three years to find the last time anybody spoke so highly on the forward. The unfortunate truth is Anichebe has been a perennial underperformer in the Premier League; one who hasn’t had any real value to his name since 2013.

Despite David Moyes originally elevating Anichebe from the Everton U18s in July 2006, the Nigerian did not begin performing effectively for the Toffees for nearly half a decade. His first goal-scoring run began in the 2011/2012 Premier League season – Anichebe already being 23 years old – when he would score five goals in that campaign.

His better form would begin the following year, when Anichebe contributed to seven goals over eight matches between December 2012 and February 2013, culminating in his goal and assist against Aston Villa in a 3-3 draw. This was (and still is) his best season for goal contribution, at a rate of one every 143 minutes across a seasonal playing time of 1,717 minutes.

But, again, that is as good as it’s ever got for the player.

You only need to briefly scan his record at West Bromwich Albion to see why. His first season with the Baggies centralised around a month-long form run in February 2014; scoring twice, assisting twice, over four consecutive matches. Aside from that, though? Nothing, really. Anichebe ended his final season in the Midlands on 364 minutes game time, with 3 starts and 7 sub apps. They paid £5.02 million for his services.

As it stands today, the striker’s goal-scoring and goal-contribution ratio is probably below average. After 186 league appearances for Everton and West Bromwich Albion, Anichebe’s record stands at just 24 goals and 17 assists (18 and 11 for Everton, 6 and 6 for Albion).

And in the context of game time, you can see the regression that exists with the player, too. At Everton, Anichebe was directly involved in a goal every 196 minutes, whereas at West Brom, that ratio dropped to every 217 minutes. That trend also applies his record for goals scored; at Everton it was every 316 minutes, but at West Brom it was a less-impressive 435 minutes.

So, on average, we’re talking about a player that should be on a goal every three-to-five games – in theory, anyway. Whether that happens is entirely down to how motivated Anichebe feels on the day.

Fortunately, one advantage Sunderland does have in this regard is the managerial appointment of David Moyes. There’s a straight-forward reason why the current Black Cats manager opted to recruit his former Everton striker: experience. To date, Moyes has managed 169 of the 240 competitive matches in Victor Anichebe’s career; and has coached him to 27 goals and 19 assists – the best run of form the Nigerian has had of any manager.

He also played a huge part in developing versatility in the player. During Anichebe’s best ‘run’ of goals from 2011 to 2013, he would score 11 goals; 4 were left-footed, 5 were right-footed, and 2 were headers. That’s always good to know if you’re looking for goal-scoring reliability. His shooting accuracy since 2009 has also consistently hovered around that 33% mark, which is actually good, believe it or not.

What’s not good, however, is that last week marked Anichebe’s first competitive goal since May 2015. And eighteen months without a goal is bloody woeful. That also means that as good as his performance was against Bournemouth, it was indirectly typifying of the player’s career.

Just go ask a West Brom fan, if you’ve accidentally got to know one of them, and they’ll tell you all you need to know. Actually, just go through our own archives here at Roker Report when we originally did scout reports on the guy. The gist is: you might grow a beard four times before you see a performance like this again! Big Vic should be celebrating a far more successful career than he has, truth be told, if he could only harness that motivation every week.

Hopefully, now, things are a little different for the striker. Hopefully, with Anichebe reunited with the one mentor who could get the best out of him, combined with that traditional 28-year old form peak most players go through, we could be seeing a different Victor Anichebe; one who is more responsible, wiser, and wants it more than ever before.

And if we do see that... we should probably keep an eye on his contracting expiring in seven months.

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